Cabinet minister Grant Shapps has revealed he predicted to within one vote the scale of the recent revolt by Tory MPs against Boris Johnson.
In doing do so, the transport secretary was far more accurate in forecasting the scale of opposition against the prime minister’s leadership than the Conservative whips.
The backroom fixers were taken by surprise at the size of the mutiny having underestimated the number of the parliamentary party backing no confidence earlier this month.
In the event, Conservative MPs voted by 211 to 148 in support of Mr Johnson, but the scale of the opposition was greater than that seen in 2018 when Theresa May faced a confidence vote.
She secured the support of 63% of her MPs but was still forced out within six months.
Mr Johnson saw 41% of his MPs vote against him, a worse result than Mrs May.
While the Tory leader and his supporters insist it was a “decisive” victory, it has left him bruised amid the fallout of the partygate scandal, the cost of living crisis, political challenges, and the threat of further blows in two key by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton on 23 June.
Mr Shapps had previously accurately forecast the number of Conservative MPs who backed Boris Johnson for leader.
Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme if he had been “on the money again” following the recent no confidence vote, Mr Shapps said: “One out.”
He added: “But I should point out, it’s not as useful as it sounds, it’s not as good as it sounds, it’s a statistical prediction rather than individuals who voted specifically one way or the other.”
But he would not be drawn when pressed over whether he had warned Mr Johnson beforehand, although as a key ally it is likely he would have flagged the numbers.
Mr Shapps told Ridge: “I’m not going to get into specific details of the conversation.”
Seeking to draw a line under the recent internal infighting, he added: “Everyone now is in the mood of let’s give the prime minister the opportunity, the space, the time to make sure he can carry on with some of the work that he’s doing.”
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Mr Johnson’s former anti-corruption champion John Penrose, who quit his role accusing the PM of breaking ministerial rules over lockdown-busting Downing Street parties, said the result of the no confidence ballot had brought the Tory leader time for a “reset”.
The Tory MP told Ridge: “I think that by winning the vote, although I think he would have wanted to win it much more handily and with a bigger margin, but I think the prime minister has won himself a bit of time.
“And people like me and others, we have to respect the result of that vote, we have to accept it and respect it and I think everybody does.
“That means that the prime minister has got a bit of time to deliver the reset that he has already says he wants to do.
“He knows he has got to rebuild some bridges if you like, so he says he wants to do that and I think that is entirely the right thing for him to do.”
He added: “But I don’t think that rebuilding bridges will just involve ignoring the issue because I don’t think ethics works that way.
“I don’t think integrity works that way.
“I think you have got to show that you’re changing what you’re doing and you are changing how you do it in order to address the concerns.
“You can’t just ignore them and pretend it didn’t happen.”